pronounciation of english

Jane McGary
Tue, 27 Jul 2010 14:52:55 PDT
Ben Zonneveld, who is a very good botanist, wrote:
>The funny thing is that only English speakers every time wonder how to
>pronounce a name . The explanation is simple. There are about 35
>different sounds in every language. There are also about the same number
>,35, of ways to write these sounds. With one exception unfortunately
>.The English has about 800 different ways to write these same 35 sounds.
>For me, if I see a dutch word for the first time I know in most cases
>how to pronounce it. This is nearly impossible with an English word even
>if you are a linguist.

I, who am no botanist but who am a linguist with a BA in Classics, 
must correct this. Many languages have far more than 35 phonemes, or 
meaningful sounds, and a few have fewer than that. I've worked with 
more than one language of which we said, ruefully, that it has more 
phonemes than speakers. (And by the way, the orthography of Dutch is 
far from transparent.)

The pronunciation of classical Latin and Greek (most people who get 
caught up in this sort of discussion ignore the fact that many 
botanical names are Greek, not Latin) has been reconstructed in 
various ways at various times, and we can be sure that the way these 
languages were spoken varied from place to place and from time to 
time. You can't base your pronunciation of a plant name on whatever 
you heard in your high school Latin class decades ago, because 
historical phonology has moved on since then.

I will not loose the standard lecture at this point, but will say 
only that botanical names are best considered loanwords in whatever 
language context they are being used. Most languages' speakers have a 
strong tendency to treat loanwords in certain ways, such as rendering 
the vowels and assigning syllabic stress. These tendencies can vary 
even between two varieties of the same language; for instance, 
American English speakers tend to assign stress to the penultimate 
syllable of an unfamiliar word, and British speakers to the 
antepenult. Moreover, American speakers are more likely to preserve 
the Continental vowels than are British speakers (i.e., the vowel 
pronunciations most easily heard in Spanish). These are not mistakes; 
they are just characteristics of different language varieties.

If your interlocutor (the person you're talking with) understands 
what you mean, you are doing all right. If he doesn't, you can write 
down the word, or, if you know how, render it in a different language variety.

So stop worrying about how to say them and let's worry about how to 
grow them. I am busy with the latter. I'm lifting my whole bulb 
collection to move it into the new bulb house, which will be finished 
tomorrow! Then the mason builds the raised beds inside it, and I, or, 
I hope, some powerful hired hands, bring in the soil components, and 
the bulbs go into their deep, unconstricted new homes, where they 
should all be much happier than in pots. Then I can start rounding up 
replacements of all the things that froze to death last December -- 
mostly arums, but if you can spare Gladiolus tristis, I'm missing it sadly.

Jane McGary
Northwestern Oregon, USA

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